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Provo • After a rough go during BYU's spring game, an ice-rain-soaked showing well beneath his personal standard, Tanner Mangum was only minimally troubled. The sun would shine the next day, and the day after, and the day after that.
The sun already was shining in the eyes of blue-clad fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, fans all around, who shivered as they sloshed over to Mangum, still padded up in uniform, to meet him, no … to gain an audience with him, afterward.
One dad requested an autograph for his boy. Another did the same. And another. A few wanted photo ops. One kid informed Mangum that he had two friends named Tanner. And then, the following occurred: A boy, about 8 years old, standing in the distance cried to his father that he wanted to meet Mangum, saying: "I just wanted to touch him." The father responded with this: "It's OK, son. Not everyone gets to touch Tanner Mangum."
Yeah, that actually happened.
The untouched one fully gets the deal here. The BYU quarterback deal, on the field and off it.
"There's a lot of responsibility that comes with this," Mangum said. "I used to worry about it. But now, I've kind of embraced and accepted it as a chance to do some good things. I just want to go on being myself. I have flaws, I'm human, I make mistakes, and that's OK. I remember that this isn't about me. Kids look up to college athletes, they're watching us, so we might as well do some good."
And indeed, Mangum was cooperative with everybody that day who approached him, trying to be as normal and natural as possible and doing a damn fine job of it. He smiled at the kids, nodded at the dads and moms, kissed the babies no, no he did not and acted genuine. And then, when he looked around and saw that his family, visiting from Idaho for the game, long since had exited the building to get out of the wet, frigid air at LaVell Edwards Stadium, he noticed he pretty much was alone. Stranded. The hero had no ride. Still decked out in his drenched No. 12 jersey, he bummed a lift back to the practice complex to shower and change, and to happily leave the three interceptions he just had thrown 500 miles in his rearview.
For good reason, Ty Detmer believes in him.
"Tanner's been great this spring," BYU's offensive coordinator said. "It's been night and day from last year. He sees it and understands it. He's accurate, has a strong arm and his decision-making has been really good. He's completed 85 percent of his passes in skelly and 79 percent in team periods. We're expecting a big season from him."
Kalani Sitake believes, too.
"The guy's a great quarterback," the BYU coach said. "He's a little bit impatient at times. But he's learned the offense. He's a big-time player. I want him to have freedom. This is his team, it's his offense."
Mangum greets those relayed comments with a grin.
One of the first noticeable things about him, the thing that hits you in the head like a swinging socket wrench, is his ever-present optimism. Sunshine is the nickname of another famous quarterback anyone remember 'Remember the Titans?' but it also would work for him.
Life has taught the 23-year-old junior that he's going to be OK, come what may. That's what happens when you grow up in a loving family in favorable circumstances in the suburbs of Boise, in an environment diverse enough to encourage you to play the cello and take school seriously and have a curious mind and love trivia, and love the shows 'Jeopardy' and 'Planet Earth, as well as World War II history. He also had a Gewehr 43 for an arm. What's a Gewehr 43? Mangum would recognize the reference immediately as German rifle.
And he has had that arm from the time he hung out with his older football-playing brothers, straight into the 9th grade, when he started for his varsity high school team. He started every year.
"That showed me I was pretty good at this thing," he said. "I had a knack for it. It was something I could pursue."
It wasn't all licorice and lollipops, though. Mangum broke his collarbone at the start of his junior prep season. But he learned the value of the fight in coming back from that.
Parts of the rest of Mangum's story are familiar.
Before his senior high school season, he made real the famous story about him getting invited to the Elite 11 Quarterback camp, where he showed up and answered the question "Who's this kid from Idaho?" by blowing away all the other highly touted QBs except for one his camp co-MVP Jameis Winston. Mangum was smart and accurate, a promising prospect.
"That just fueled my drive," he said.
He had decided by then to go to BYU, where his parents went to school, where his brother played, where he had attended football camps for years. Boise State made a strong push and he was impressed by then-coach Chris Peterson. But ultimately he arrived in Provo, gray-shirted, played spring ball, then left on an LDS church mission to remote desert towns in Chile.
When he returned, he brought back with him maturity and perspective that two years of selfless religious service wedged into his psyche. What he didn't return with was an arm and a body fit for football. For exercise, he had done rudimentary calisthenics and tossed a football around a handful of times, but, he said, he played more futbol than anything else.
"When I got back in June 2015, I had no muscle," he said. "The first day in the weight room, I was shaking after the first set. I was dying."
Mangum had no way of knowing that he'd be throwing consecutive Hail Mary passes for last-minute wins in September's first two games at Nebraska and against Boise State. You know the story Taysom Hill got hurt, the freshman was tossed in "The trainer told me, 'Get ready to go, Taysom's done for the season,'" he said and next thing went on to win nine games that season, despite suffering a pulled hammy in the East Carolina game. The quarterback's talents were evident, hints of his abilities emerging.
And then … Hill came back for a fifth year. Coach Bronco Mendenhall and offensive coordinator Robert Anae had left, replaced by Sitake and Detmer. And the new guys decided they'd go with the veteran to lead their offense. It worked out, sort of. Hill rarely shined as a thrower, but he ran around a lot and won some games.
Mangum stood on the sidelines and learned what he could, getting only spot duty, hearing his name chanted from the stands when the offense struggled, not wanting to sport any kind of victimized attitude, not wanting to divide his team.
"I didn't want to step on Taysom's toes," he said. "I competed but didn't want to poison the team."
Sitake confided after one game a win over Cincinnati that Mangum's time surely was coming. And it came when Hill was injured against Utah State, allowing the sophomore to start in the Poinsettia Bowl, where the Cougars planned to throw a lot "We were gonna sling it," he said but Detmer went conservative due to rainy conditions to beat Wyoming. And now, at last, the opportunity Sitake promised unfolds in front of Mangum like a ribbon of wide-open road, the sun beaming down.
"It all feels natural now," he said. "I feel ready and prepared."
Through spring practices, as Detmer mentioned, the quarterback has been sharp, with the exception of the scrimmage, during which the coordinator said his guy "got greedy." He's owned his position, owned his offense, owned his team.
"I have a feeling that it's going to be a special year for us," Mangum said. "But there's a lot of work to do for me and for everyone. I'm not satisfied with where I'm at. I want to keep working hard, keep getting better and have everything ready. Mistakes happen, but I'm not going to let that rattle my confidence. …"
He paused, like a quarterback walking to the line of scrimmage, perusing the defense, making his adjustments.
" … I'm sure things will work out."
Asked if he wants to play in the NFL post-BYU, Mangum said, "It's something I'm working towards. I'm hopeful."
He's ever hopeful.
Just as Mangum finished talking, an older gentleman walked up and said: "I'm sorry, I need to interrupt for a minute. I just wanted to shake your hand. You're one helluva nice athlete, one helluva nice quarterback. What I'm saying is true. I'm from Montana. I'm not into bullsh. And I don't believe in flattery. I'm just telling it like it is."
Answered the quarterback, looking the man straight in the eye and shaking his hand, "Thank you. I appreciate that."
The stranger shuffled off, happy to have touched Tanner Mangum.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
Tanner Mangum file
• Rated the No. 3 prep quarterback in the country out of Eagle, Idaho, by Rivals.com
• Co-MVP of Elite 11 Quarterback camp
• Threw two Hail Mary passes to win his first two games for BYU against Nebraska and Boise State his freshman season in 2015
• Completed 267 of 446 passes for 3,377 yards, 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions that year
• Sat behind Taysom Hill for most of last season before getting the start in the Poinsettia Bowl, a win over Wyoming